Thriller entertains but fails to compel
Plenty of actors have found a way of capitalizing on their niche. Angelina Jolie plays a great bad girl, Rachel McAdams is famous for her romantic-comedy charm and Michael Cera always takes on the role of the awkward teenage fanboy.
Though two-time Academy Award-winning actor Denzel Washington is in a league far ahead of Jolie, McAdams and Cera, the concept of the niche still exists. In the past decade, Washingtonâs roles are clear imitations of each other: No one can play the wise and out-of-control mentor/villain quite like him.
Washingtonâs typical role consists of him taking on a young apprentice and helping him reach his nirvana moment. These glib, but intelligent men have hearts of gold and are completely blind to the corruption surrounding them. There might be lots of blood and gun fights, like in Training Day, or it could be a more subdued affair like The Great Debaters. Either way, Washington is there to save the day.
Safe House, Washingtonâs newest feature, is no different. Here, Washington hits his stride, taking on a role that he and the audience are comfortable seeing him in â and one that he obviously enjoys portraying.
Washington plays the rogue CIA agent Tobin Frost, a man who has been selling agency secrets for nine years. One day, Frost receives a computerized file, which he casually injects into his thigh for safekeeping.
How does the audience know that this file is important? Instead of slyly keeping the audience in the dark, director Daniel Espinosa chooses to be painstakingly obvious.
The bad guys continuously say, âWe need that file!â with mediocre delivery, and Frost checks that the file is still safe throughout the film, complete with close-ups to ensure the audience that this is an incredibly important file.
Hoping to escape the usual foreign bad guys, Frost walks into the United States Consulate in Capetown. Taken to the agencyâs safe house, Frost meets Matthew Weston (Ryan Reynolds).
After a skirmish here and there and gun sequences far too long to be genuinely exciting, Frost convinces Weston to get them both out of the safe house â a move that any audience member can see coming.
What follows is a madcap adventure throughout the beautiful country of South Africa, mixed with some CIA drama back in Langley and an unnecessary subplot involving Westonâs French girlfriend.
The film wants to pride itself on having the two superstars, Washington and Reynolds, assume their best âIâm calmâ and âIâm scaredâ faces, but the sub-charactersâ emotions only range from confused to more confused. The audience knows this because the dialogue is mostly composed ofÂ âWhy would Tobin Frost walk into the Consulate,â âWhat does the file contain,â and âWeâre trying to figure that out.â
Yes, it all does seem oddly predictable. Safe House attempts to present itself as a taut psychological thriller, but when youâve seen all the tricks before, the film loses part of its potential.
At times, Safe House appears to be an opportunity for Washington to deliver lines like, âIâm already in your headâ with trademark calm force. At other points, Reynolds presents his best scared-but-strong bravado.
Espinosa fails to do what the Bourne trilogy did so well: surprise and excite. Instead of following our hero along for the journey, viewers will find that they simply know too much about the situation to be further compelled.
In a thriller, predictability is a killer â and Safe House is a floundering victim.
The film could have been a truly intriguing night out at the movies if Espinosa had not decided to not play by the rules so closely.
What saves Safe House from the dark abyss of forgotten action thrillers is camera work, including some fine shaky-cam technique courtesy of cinematographer Oliver Wood.
Despite the preliminary sea-sickness feeling you might get from the shaky-cam, the beautifully saturated tones and Bourne-like sporadic movements elevate the film, infusing it with a touch of realism and saving it from points of mediocrity and implausible activity.
Yet, the filmâs flaws canât be denied.Â All the audience wants is a cause for spectacle, a night of surprises and heart-racing action. But since we know exactly who is going to get shot when, the excitement fades.
In his next effort, Espinosa needs to figure out what kind of film he is making. As a mind-exercising thriller, Safe House fails. Though it does strangely succeed as a form of B-rated fun, Safe House is a perfect example of a film that could have been so much more.